Basswood Island

Sandstone shore with trees and blocks, green water in front and cloudy sky.
Basswood Shoreline

NPS photo/G.M. Spoto

Quick Facts
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Historic Brownstone Quarry

Animal-Safe Food Storage, Fire Pit, Picnic Table

Wiigobiish-minis (Basswood Island) - so close and yet so far. Although the Bayfield Peninsula lies just over a mile away, visitors are rewarded with the isolation and solitude of an island experience. Low cliffs of brown sandstone or banks of broken stone and red clay meet Lake Superior along Basswood’s shoreline. An isolated sandstone block, called “Lone Rock” or “Honeymoon Rock” lies off the island’s north tip. A dense growth of forest is broken only by several small clearings, the result of historic activities. The geology; the forests; and evidence of logging, quarrying, and farming are all vital components of Basswood’s story - a story to be “read” by the observant island visitor.

Boating, Camping, Hunting, and Hiking

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers visitors the opportunity to experience and enjoy a variety of natural and cultural features. Visitors must do their part to help protect park resources. Please follow the seven principles of “Leave No Trace” outdoor ethics.

A 70 foot long dock is located midway up the west side of the island near the outlet of a small stream. The maximum depth of water at the end of the dock is 4-6 feet. Boaters planning to moor overnight are cautioned that this dock is exposed to winds from the southwest and northwest. A rock landing is located at the south end of the island near campsite #1. Captains are encouraged to monitor marine weather forecasts for weather and wave conditions. Persons traveling to the island in small boats, canoes or kayaks should pay attention to weather conditions and proceed with caution. Permits are required for all camping and are available at the national lakeshore visitor center in Bayfield. Campsites: four are located at the south end of the island near the brownstone quarry. Two more are located near a clearing 200 yards from the dock. A group campsite is in the clearing, along with a vault toilet.

A special deer hunt for hunters using muzzle loading rifles takes place on Oak and Basswood islands in October. A limited number of permits are available. Contact Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's superintendent for details.

Hiking: a 5 1/2 mile loop trail begins and ends near a clearing up the hill from the dock. 

Brownstone, Lumber, and Crops

The Lake Superior brownstone industry began in 1869 when sandstone from Basswood Island was selected for Milwaukee County’s courthouse. Steam drills and derricks cut and moved the stone and, by 1871, brownstone was being shipped to Chicago to replace buildings lost in the great fire. In 1883, the new courthouse in Bayfield (now Park headquarters) was built of Basswood Island brownstone. Changing architectural styles and the economic crash of 1893 brought an end to the brownstone industry.

Logging on Basswood Island began in conjunction with quarry activities and continued until the 1950s. Eastern hemlock, one of the first species harvested, was important to the leather industry. Two million board feet of white pine were harvested from the island’s northeast side in the 1890s. In the 1940s, a small logging camp was located in what is now a campground near Basswood Island’s dock. This operation harvested aspen and fir for pulpwood and yellow birch for veneer.

Several farmers have taken advantage of the island’s extended growing season. The McCloud-Brigham farm, located in the north central portion of the island, was the largest. None of the five buildings once at the site remain standing.

“A Mammoth Pumpkin weighing eighty-one pounds, a snake cucumber about four feet long, and some monster potatoes, which measure no less than eight inches in diameter. They are the products of Basswood Island, that wonderful place for farm products of mammoth proportions.” - Bayfield County Press, 1877.

Richard McCloud filed a homestead claim for property on Basswood Island in 1865. By 1871 he built a log home and cultivated five acres. The farm provided produce, including six varieties of onions and ten varieties of corn, for workers at the Strong, French & Co.’s quarry on the island. Richard McCloud and his brother Joseph operated the farm until Joseph’s death in 1900.

In 1903, E. K. Brigham and his five sons began logging Basswood Island. They established their logging camp at the former McCloud farm. The camp housed as many as 50 men. The Brighams found markets far and near for the island’s white pine, hemlock, oak, and other hardwoods. Some timbers were cut in 24 foot lengths and shipped all the way to England for dock construction. Other trees were cut in three foot lengths and hauled across the ice to Bayfield to burn in the school furnace. After the timber was cut, the Brighams converted the old bunkhouse into a summer home. They planted several hundred apple and cherry trees at the farm and raised as many as seventeen cows. Although the property was never farmed after E. K. Brigham’s death in 1923, it stayed in the family until 1967.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Last updated: October 1, 2021